Friday, November 22, 2019

Hong Kong bars activist Joshua Wong from running in election

Oct 30. 2019
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong speaks during a news conference in Hong Kong on October 29. Photo: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg/Washington Post Syndication
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong speaks during a news conference in Hong Kong on October 29. Photo: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg/Washington Post Syndication
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By Bloomberg
Washington Post Syndication

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Hong Kong has disqualified activist Joshua Wong from running in District Council elections next month, in a blow to protesters’ efforts to win greater electoral influence in the former British colony.

Wong confirmed on Tuesday that he was barred from seeking a seat in the November 24 poll. The government said in a separate statement, without naming any candidates, that support for “self-determination” was inconsistent with Hong Kong’s Basic Law and affirmed its support for the official who made the decision.

“I become the only candidate banned from running in November's District Council Election,” Wong said in a tweet. “It proved how Beijing manipulate the election with political censorship and screening.”

Wong, a former student activist who gained international recognition for his leadership role in the 2014 Occupy protests, has supported Hong Kong’s “self-determination” -- a position city officials equate with advocating independence. He was among several activists seeking to take the more traditional political path and convert Hong Kong’s street protests into an electoral victories in the November vote.

Although Wong has played a more peripheral role in the current protest movement -- testifying in Washington for congressional action to support Hong Kong -- he was among several prominent activists arrested since the unrest began. Wong was released on bail and faces his next court hearing November 8.

Wong “has immense symbolic significance for young people” in Hong Kong and disqualifying him is likely to worsen the ongoing unrest, said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for China Studies.

“The disqualification of Joshua could become another cause celebre for the opposition to rally people and ensure that the confrontation will continue and even be exacerbated,” Lam said. “It’s a very stupid move on the part of the SAR administration.”

Wong was banned because while he did not associate himself with the Demosisto party in his application, he was a founding member of the group, Radio Television Hong Kong reported, citing a notice from an electoral official. Demosisto advocates self-determination for the city, an idea enshrined in the first article of the United Nations' charter.

The decision to bar Wong from running follows a pattern by the Hong Kong government to prevent more radical pro-democracy activists from seeking office on the grounds that their views violate the Basic Law’s assertion that Hong Kong “is an inalienable part” of China. In 2016, the government prevented some “localist” lawmakers from running for the Legislative Council, and subsequently ousted others who secured seats in the chamber.

Pro-democracy hopeful Lau Siu-lai -- who once advocated self-determination -- last October became what was then the ninth person since 2016 disallowed from contesting an election because of a political view, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper. Authorities also banned Demosisto activist Agnes Chow from running in a special election last year.

Some 83 per cent of 1,038 respondents disagreed with the idea of Hong Kong being independent, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Program. It said 11 per cent agreed with independence, with the poll targeting Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong citizens ages 18 or above.

The latest move came shortly after the city's embattled chief executive, Carrie Lam -- selected by a 1,200-member committee dominated by Beijing loyalists in 2017 -- dismissed reports that Chinese leaders were planning to replace her next year. Carrie Lam called a Financial Times report on the discussions “very malicious and maybe politically driven speculation”, citing similar comments last week by China’s foreign ministry.

“The central government has been very supportive and remains confident that I, myself, my political team, and the Hong Kong SAR government -- particularly the police -- will be able to handle the situation and end violence and return Hong Kong to normal as soon as possible,” Carrie Lam said.

Carrie Lam’s introduction of legislation that would allow extraditions to mainland China sparked the months of protests against Beijing’s tightening grip over the former British colony. The Beijing-appointed chief executive’s decisions to withdraw the bill and invoke a colonial-era emergency law to ban face masks have so far failed to stop the protests.

Lam’s approval rating fell to a record low in late October, with just 11 per cent expressing confidence in her performance, according to a separate survey released Tuesday by HKPOP.

At a media briefing, Wong encouraged people to protest over the coming weekend -- and to vote.

“Whether it’s sending me to jail or disqualifying me from running in elections, it will not deter me from participating in the democratic movement,” Wong said. “This will only motivate more Hong Kong people to join the resistance.”

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